Banking’s Top 10 Cybersecurity Threats

A hooded cybercriminal at his desk

Ever wonder why cyberattacks are so common these days?

The answer is simple: cybercrime is big business

In a world increasingly governed by digital transactions and data, every breach has the potential to result in millions of dollars for cybercriminals…and significant financial losses for financial services organizations. It’s a gold rush for the modern rogue, where every successful hack is a ticket to immense illicit earnings.

It’s not going to stop anytime soon, and hackers are getting increasingly sophisticated at their craft.

Within this digital battlefield, the arsenal of cyberattacks will continue to expand. Countless banks are caught square in the crosshairs as they have money and client data that are motivating factors for hacking syndicates.

At .Bank, we’re not just here to deliver fortified domains. We’re here to help make it harder for cyber criminals, by ensuring banks deploy critical security features to protect their website and email channel.

We’re dedicated to equipping banks with the knowledge to safeguard their employees,  customers, and good name from cyber threats that target their digital presence. 

Today, we’re going to unveil the top ten cybersecurity threats facing your business.

More importantly, we’ll reveal how hackers deploy these methods, so you can confidently thwart them. 

Cybersecurity: A Brief Overview

“Cybersecurity” is the art and science of defending against digital attacks.

As such, it demands a multi-tiered approach to protecting networks, computers, programs, data, and people from cyberattack. 

In most cases, a cyberattack involves the exposure, exfiltration, and potential destruction of private data. While some cyberattacks are politically motivated, the vast majority of cybercriminals seek financial gain. 

That’s why financial institutions are disproportionately attacked over other industries. After all, banks have servers replete with sensitive customer data that devious hackers can leverage and repurpose.

According to the World Economic Forum, global cybercrime will carry an annual price tag of $10.5 trillion by 2025. While businesses bleed cash and suffer reputational damage, hackers are getting filthy rich. In 2021 alone, U.S. banks paid over $1.2 billion in cyber extortions. 

Cybersecurity is much more than a hot topic. In the digital age, it’s the key to survival for banks. While a bank itself is heavily supervised for cybersecurity, they need to look at third-party vendors to keep up their defenses from cloud-based.

For an in-depth examination of banking cybersecurity, check out our comprehensive guide. 

The Top 10 Cybersecurity Threats for Banks

In the world of cybersecurity, banks are only as secure as their weakest link.

That’s why hacking cartels dedicate their time to finding and exploiting vulnerabilities. 

Unfortunately, these bad actors have a plethora of ways to breach networks and wreak havoc from within. 

Here are the ten leading tactics cybercriminals deploy.

1. Phishing

Definition: As a type of social engineering attack, phishing deploys counterfeit email and text messages that appear to come from legitimate sources.

The goal of phishing is simple: to trick users into either downloading malware or providing sensitive data and login information. When it comes to banking cybersecurity, phishing is the leading villain. 

Common Uses: Phishing variants can be both generic and targeted. With spear phishing, hackers target a specific department or individual within a company, such as an HR manager.

With whaling, hackers pursue senior officials and C-suite leaders. Business email compromise (BEC) is another form of phishing that seeks to trick users into wiring money. 

Prevention Tips: Phishing preys on human innocence. As such, cyber hygiene (and a healthy dose of internet skepticism) can go a long way to defending your company.

To avoid phishing schemes, be sure to:

  • Install high-quality firewalls (ideally for hardware and software).
  • Use antivirus software programs and anti-spam filters.
  • Deploy malicious URL and/or anti-phishing detection tools.
  • Utilize multi-factor authentication (MFA).
  • Ignore spam emails and delete them without opening.
  • Beware of pop-ups, however innocent they may seem.
  • Never open email attachments from unknown sources.
  • Never click on unverified links in emails or text messages.
  • Never divulge personal or confidential business information. 

Real-World Damages: According to the FBI, there were over 300,000 phishing attacks in 2022, and large corporations bore the brunt of it. The average phishing attack cost businesses $4.91 million.

2. Malware

Definition: A contraction of “malicious software,” malware refers to any program built to disrupt, damage, or expose a computer system.

Distributed through malicious emails, websites, and text messages, malware is often unintentionally installed or downloaded onto devices and networks.

Common Uses: Malware incorporates attack methods like viruses, worms, and trojans. The most insidious form of malware is ransomware, which locks users out of their systems until they pay the ransom. 

Prevention Tips: Cyber hygiene is real, and it’s well worth your investment. While some of these suggestions might seem obvious (or repetitive), don’t overlook them as you mitigate your exposure to malware:

  • Install the latest firewall and antivirus software programs.
  • Update passwords and utilize multi-factor authentication (MFA). 
  • Avoid visiting websites with questionable domains.
  • Avoid opening emails from unknown senders. 
  • Never open email attachments from unknown senders.
  • Never click on unverified links in emails or text messages.

Real-World Damages: While ransomware has cost global banks $32 billion since 2018, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) is proliferating around the world, making it easier than ever for bad actors to hold banks at virtual gunpoint.

3. DDoS

Definition: A distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attack is a deliberate attempt to overwhelm a server or network with traffic. It is among the most devastating cybersecurity threats.

To exploit and disable a target, DDoS attacks leverage multiple compromised computer systems from several remote locations. These devices are often called botnets.

Common Uses: Generally speaking, there are three types of DDoS attacks: volume based attacks (which flood the bandwidth of the target site), application layer attacks (which crash web servers), and protocol attacks (which penetrate server resources like firewalls).

Prevention Tips: While DDoS attacks come in many forms, you can help prevent them with the following best practices:

  • Create an end-to-end DDoS response plan and checklist (from IT to PR).
  • Invest in server redundancy to minimize downtime and maintain business.
  • Leverage cloud-based DDoS prevention services. 
  • Monitor your network traffic patterns to develop a baseline. 
  • Flag any network slowdowns or website outages/crashes.

Real-World Damages: According to recent studies, over 30% of all DDoS attacks explicitly target financial services companies. Worse yet, “DDoS-as-a-Service” is becoming a convenient reality for cybercriminals at just $30 a month.

4. Spoofing

Definition: In a spoofing attack, bad actors impersonate real sources to gain a victim’s trust.

Common Uses: An extension of phishing, spoofing often involves the detailed imitation of genuine websites, email addresses, URLs, caller IDs, and even SMS text messages.

In their efforts to appear authentic, cybercriminals will artistically employ a company’s logos, fonts, and other branding materials.

Prevention Tips: While situational awareness is king when it comes to detecting spoofing, look to also incorporate the following strategies:

  • Check the email domain. If it comes from a free email provider (like Yahoo or Hotmail), proceed with caution. 
  • Does the sender name match the email address? If not, delete it.
  • Review the URL. If you notice typos or alternate spellings, it’s probably malicious.
  • Ignore any communications that request personal information. Authentic companies and employers will never ask for your sensitive data in email.
  • Spell check. If you notice slight misspellings or grammatical oddities, immediately delete the email (or close the website).
  • Check the payment methods. While authentic websites accept standard payment methods, sketchy sites typically request cryptocurrencies. 
  • Leverage a .Bank domain so you, your team, and your customers always know what’s legit (and what’s questionable).

Real-World Damages: Bank impersonation scams are on the rise. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), bank impersonation SMS text message attacks are 20x more common today than in 2019. The average victim of these scams lost $3,000 in 2021. 

5. Insider Threats

Definition: An insider threat occurs when an authorized user unwittingly enables hijacking or deliberately misuses his/her credentials.

Insider threats can involve business partners, employees, contractors, third-party vendors, or anyone with physical (or remote) access to an organization.  

Common Uses: Insider threats typically arise because of negligence or malevolence. They are very serious, and cybercriminals are quite capable of exploiting both.

Negligent employees can easily open the door to cybercrime by leaving a device unlocked or falling for a phishing scheme.

Conversely, malicious employees may hold a grudge towards their employer or sell credentials for supplemental income. 

Prevention Tips: To mitigate the risk of insider cybersecurity threats, companies must employ multiple strategies:

  • Monitor and limit the accounts and privileges of all staff (including contractors).
  • Carefully screen all new hires, contractors, and vendors.
  • Establish a security policy that detects, blocks, and investigates employee misuse. 
  • Protect your company’s intellectual property by limiting data exfiltration.
  • Provide ongoing security training for all staff.
  • Promote a “see something, say something” environment. 
  • Leverage multi-factor authentication (ideally three-factor authentication).

Real-World Damages: Insider threats are on the rise across multiple verticals (up 44% since 2020), and the losses are devastating. According to recent reports, the average cost-per-incident is over $15 million.

6. Cloud-Based Cyberattacks

Definition: Cloud-based cyberattacks target off-site servers providing storage, hosting, and computing services.

Common Uses: Just like on-premise attacks, hackers target cloud infrastructure with DDoS, insider threats, malware, and phishing. As of 2022, phishing is the leading vector of attack on cloud-based servers.

Prevention Tips: Cloud technology maximizes convenience and vulnerability. After all, it incorporates enormous data sets from multiple sources—all in one place. That’s exactly why hackers have set their sights on the cloud.

Once again, cyber hygiene is essential to protecting cloud services, alongside other protocols:

  • Mitigate insider threats by promoting employee education and responsibility.
  • Limit employee access to data and establish access controls to reduce exposure.
  • Invest in server redundancy to prevent the possibility of permanent data loss.
  • Leverage multi-factor authentication and the use of complex credentials and passwords.
  • Engage in frequent penetration testing to determine the quality of your security (and the speed of your response protocol).

Real-World Damages: The proliferation of cloud services has possessed the cybercriminal underworld. In 2022, cloud system exploitation doubled, not long after a cellular network in Thailand suffered a cloud attack that exposed 8 billion personal records.

7. Supply Chain Attacks

Definition: A breach that targets the weakest link of an organization’s network of suppliers. As suppliers have access to the organization’s data, that single breach can get hackers inside the whole network.

Common Uses: Hackers take advantage of third-party software updates to perpetuate attacks and infiltrate less secure systems. They can then “island hop” from a supplier to their main target (i.e. your organization).

Phone security certificates, business devices infected with malware, corrupted firmware, are other ways in which hackers can compromise your suppliers to gain access to your system.

Prevention Tips: As a supply chain attack happens via your providers, it can feel like it’s beyond your control. But there are measures that you can take to decrease the chance of suffering a breach:

  • Know your suppliers and their security standards.
  • Set and communicate security requirements to all suppliers.
  • Teach your suppliers about potential threats.
  • Provide support for incidents.
  • Build and nurture a trusting relationship with your suppliers, to mitigate potential threats.

Real-World Damages: While “only” 702 software packages were affected by supply chain attacks in 2019, the number rose to over 185,000 in 2022.

In fact, around 61% of U.S. companies were caught by a supply chain attack during 2022.

8. Structured Query Language (SQL) Injection

Definition: SQL is a language used to run queries on a website’s database (i.e., search something in a website). SQL injection attacks happen when hackers insert malicious code in a website through its search fields.

Common Uses: Of course, SQL injection attacks can only happen in websites that allow user-input searches and interact with databases.

The code that hackers insert can manipulate or extract sensitive data from the database, allow them to shut down the database, steal data, or perform other malicious actions. 

Prevention Tips: As necessary as search queries are, it’s important to understand that including them in your website comes with risks. Fortunately, there are actions you can take to mitigate the risk, including:

  • Validate and sanitize user input on both the client and server side. Only accept data that conforms to expected formats, and reject any suspicious or unexpected input.
  • Implement a web application firewall (WAF) that can detect and block SQL injection attempts.
  • Ensure your database users have the minimum necessary permissions to perform their tasks. Don’t use a superuser account for regular database access.
  • Keep your database software, web server, and application framework up to date to patch known vulnerabilities

Real-World Damages: First detected in 1998, SQL injection strategies have not changed much since then, and over the years have produced huge data breaches in companies such as 7-Eleven and Epic Games.

Although some underestimate the threat of SQL injection attacks, it’s essential to be secured against them.

9.   Legacy Systems

Definition: Keeping outdated software and tools within your organization is a bad idea. It eats up IT resources, but perhaps more importantly, it’s a real security threat. Hackers target these systems as they many times lack modern (or up-to-date) security measures, and they leave a gap within an organization’s security measures.

Common Uses: Hackers take advantage of known vulnerabilities of legacy systems, in the form of unpatched security flaws, weak encryption, or unsupported software.

Prevention Tips: It shouldn’t come as a surprise: to prevent legacy system attacks, companies should prioritize ending their use. If this is cost prohibitive, consider the following:

  • Where possible, replace legacy systems with more modern alternatives. 
  • Many times, organizations aren’t even aware that they have legacy systems among their tools—conduct an audit to identify these systems.
  • Update to the latest version of the system (if available).
  • Ensure that the legacy systems are under strict access control (or even inaccessible via the internet).

Real-World Damages: Some security experts assure that vulnerabilities from legacy systems might be the biggest cybersecurity threat. The WannaCry ransomware of 2017 is an example of this. Via unpatched Microsoft Windows OS versions, hackers gained access to global users’ files and held them hostage.

10. Deepfakes

Definition: As a rapidly-emerging technology, deepfakes leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to replicate established video and audio sources.

Beyond leveraging data, deepfake technology allows for cybercriminals to steal identities and impersonate them in the public square. 

Common Uses: Deepfake technology can be used to perpetrate scams and hoaxes, to manipulate elections, and most recently, to impersonate financial professionals for extortion and monetary gain.

As of now, there are no limits to the potential damages of deepfake technology.

Prevention Tips: Though the apex predator of social engineering schemes, deepfake technology can be spotted by unnatural behaviors, including:

  • Strange eye movement, such as excessive or limited blinking. Deepfake technology, though advanced, cannot yet replicate natural human eye movement. 
  • Awkward facial positions and strange bodily movements. If it enters the “uncanny valley” of your mind, it’s probably a deepfake. 
  • Aggressive language and requests, especially if they come from people you know. According to the FTC, deepfake voicemail scams are on the rise.
  • In general, if the content seems at all strange, don’t respond. Trust your intuition. It’s okay to be skeptical, especially in such uncertain times. 

Real-World Damages: According to Microsoft President Brad Smith, AI deepfakes are the biggest concern facing cybersecurity. Worse yet, Bloomberg analysts expect deepfake technology to drive cybersecurity costs to over $10.5 trillion by 2025

Fortifying Your Digital Domain With .Bank

Now that you understand how hackers are targeting your company, you can improve and build upon your defenses. 

Start from the top of the list, with phishing—the main cybersecurity threat that banks face. By getting a .Bank website, you’ll defend your bank’s digital identity and secure your email channel from phishing.

Moving your bank from an open, unrestricted domain to a .Bank domain adds a robust layer of banking cybersecurity that can stop hackers from toying with your business. 

With a .Bank domain name, you’ll never have to deal with counterfeit emails or websites abusing your company’s resources, logos, and reputation. 

Don’t get left behind—secure your bank’s future and protect its legacy with a .Bank domain today.

Join the growing list of banks who have changed their domain to .Bank.

Don't miss out

Sign up for the .Bank newsletter and receive handpicked insights and ideas directly into your inbox.

Related Articles

Team meeting over incident response plan
For banks, cyberattacks are a matter of “when,” not “if.” Read this article and discover how to create a robust cybersecurity incident response plan (IRP).
A hacker’s gloved hands typing on a laptop keyboard.
Phishing is an existential threat to banking cybersecurity. Find out which attacks are most common, plus how you can defend against them.
Banker wearing a dark suit adjusting his tie.
Brand awareness in banking is a challenge and an opportunity. Learn how to build it for your bank—a .Bank domain can help you get there.